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Report looks at how best to deal with Seattle’s vacant buildings — including ideas for temporary housing

The notorious “Biohazard House” of Belmont Ave

Seattle’s relentless redevelopment also means loads of buildings sitting vacant as developers line up permits and financing windows open and close and open again.

Wednesday morning, the Seattle City Council will receive a report on proposals for better monitoring of Seattle’s vacant buildings including how the city might penalize landlords who let their properties turn into dangerous eyesores and, better yet, how it might strengthen early efforts to connect vacant properties to organizations that can help put them to use providing temporary but much needed housing.

The report on the Vacant Building Monitoring Program being delivered to the council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee Wednesday morning is part of legislation passed in 2017 that strengthened the maintenance and demolition standards for vacant buildings. As part of the 2017 legislative process, the council asked the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to prepare a report on options for improving how the city manages its vacant structures.

SDCI’s existing monitoring program is pretty lightweight with only 43 properties currently on the roster out of hundreds of empty structures across the city. The SDCI report notes that thousands more structures aren’t included because of pending redevelopment. The dozens currently on the list earned their distinction from complaints to SDCI and landlord non-compliance. A portion of the report to be discussed Wednesday for possible future policy proposals would lower the threshold for kicking vacant buildings into the monitoring program — and even possibly change it to a mandatory program for all vacant buildings, regardless of future plans and development timelines.

Simply targeting vacant properties that received complaints in the past year would expand the program to more than 400. And it’s a growing population. SDCI says that complaint cases rose from from 265 in 2013 to 434 in 2017, a 64% increase.

The report from SDCI also discusses penalties and incentives. Landlords forced into the current program are on the hook for at the most a few hundred dollars every quarter. A more robust program could levy larger penalties.

Perhaps the most pressing opportunity, SDCI’s currently informal program of matching landlords of vacant buildings with organizations that can temporarily put the property to use in housing programs could be the base for a more robust system. Groups like Weld Seattle and Mary’s Place are already showing the way. Future legislation to build a stronger vacant building monitoring program could further strengthen the effort.

The full Vacant Building Monitoring Program report is below.

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5 thoughts on “Report looks at how best to deal with Seattle’s vacant buildings — including ideas for temporary housing

  1. I lived at the Garden studios for 20+ yrs but had to move out 3 yrs ago due to impending redevelopment which was to tear down the garden studios building and put up a bigger taller apartment building. But delays have kept the garden studios building sitting there empty and boarded up to this day and no sign of ground breaking anytime soon that I can tell. I always thought it would have been nice if I could have stayed there a few more years or if they could use the 12 studio units to house homeless people who are awaiting permanent housing or something instead of just sitting there empty, in such a prime location mid block on Bellevue Ave between Pike and Pine.

  2. If derelict vacant buildings are to be used for temporary housing, then most of them will require expensive remodeling to make them habitable. Who is going to pay for this? The property owner? The City? NGOs?

    I don’t think this is a realistic idea.

    • Who’ll pay for it? Why, someone else of course. You know— homeowners on their property tax, just like everything else. The only mechanism the city has other than sales taxes. But it couldn’t be sales taxes, because then it’s not only “someone else”.

  3. Is anybody with influence reading this? Check out Among other things, it tries to place families in transition needing temporary housing in places that, for instance, are sold to developers who will demo them but are just starting the design, permitting, etc., processes. Yes, those perfectly good homes that are sitting empty. It is genius.